After more than a quarter of a century, one of the leading state fairs in the Midwest has switched carnival companies. Following an extensive Request for Proposal (RFP) that involved some of the leading midway providers in the United States, next summer the Ohio State Fair will feature a brand new midway courtesy of Talley Amusements. Talley Amusements replaces Amusements of America who has been the midway provider for the Ohio State Fair for the past 26 years.
“Talley Amusements is a rising star in the amusement business,” said Virgil Strickler, General Manager, Ohio State Fair. “Talley’s commitment to safety, ride maintenance and quality, and professionalism contributed to the company receiving the highest score in our robust selection process.”
The selection process conducted by the Ohio Expositions Commission began in February, by a team comprised of the executive officers from the Commission, plus four Ohio Expo Center & State Fair staff members. According to a press release, the criteria used to evaluate the RFPs included: Quality of rides, games, shows and other concessions; Current operation/management philosophies and polices; past experience and previous performance for the last three years (including daily timeliness of ride, game and attraction opening; frequency which rides and shows are not operating; ride, game and show general appearance; lot cleanliness; personnel cleanliness; proper posting of information and signage); and Safety (including current safety policies and procedures as well as a review of all general liability claims and loss run outlining serious injuries or accidents.
Overshadowing the RFP approval was a fatal accident on the midway in 2017, that left 18-year-old dead and seven others injured. The accident – on a Fireball, a KMG thrill ride – not only closed down the fair last year but sent ripples through the industry that are still being felt months after the court settlement between the victims and Ohio Expositions Commission, the ride company and two private inspection firms had been reached. Perhaps one of the last ripples was the Ohio State Fair deciding to find a new carnival company, although how direct a cause and effect cannot be determined.
According to Luis Perez, Assistant General Manager of the Ohio State Fair, midway contracts are on four year terms. Perez said that while RFPs are not sent out every four years, the fair “gauges interest” of other carnival companies in competing for the highly lucrative midway for the annual celebration of everything Buckeye. In 2014, no RFP was issued because no company capable of meeting Ohio State Fair’s needs – this summer’s midway featured 74 rides – responded. Perez mentioned that this had been the case for the last several contract renewal periods, which he attributed to the “gentlemen’s agreement” that often occurs between carnival companies that “somebody is established with a fair, the other carnival companies respect it. We are always looking for the best presentation when we gauge interest, but in 2014, no reputable carnival company responded with a presentation.”
This year was a different story. “There was much more interest this time around,” said Perez.
The fair distributed the RFP to carnival companies throughout the country in February and received proposals from five companies: Amusements of America, Belle City Amusements, Kissel Entertainment, Reithoffer Shows and Talley Amusements. By May, the companies were winnowed down to Amusements of America, Reithoffer Shows and Talley Amusements. The process included onsite visits by fair personal to midways by Reithoffer Shows and Talley Amusements.
In addition to the criteria the fair was evaluating, the fair was also seeking a partner that could collaborate moving forward with some crucial changes to the event. “We want to make sure we are always improving,” said Stickler. We have high expectations, and looking at ground beautification and landscaping as well.”
Strickler stated the fair was “extremely happy with Amusements of America. It was difficult decision, and Amusements of America was one of our three finalists. We greatly value the Vivona family’s lasting partnership and support.”
First State Fair
For Talley Amusements, the Ohio State Fair will expand their geographical reach. Based in Fort Worth, Texas, the show has a solid southwestern route of large regional and county fairs, festivals and rodeos. Prior to the Ohio contract, their only foray into the Midwest has been as subcontractors, providing select rides to independent midways, such as the Minnesota and Iowa State Fairs.
According to Mary Talley, while some of the fairs they play are comparable in size to the Ohio event, the Ohio State Fair will be the company’s first true ‘state’ fair. “I see only great things on the horizon” she said.
Talley fully embraces the up-and-coming moniker associated with the ambitious carnival company. While elated with the new contract which was due to the RFP evaluators awarding the company’s their highest ratings for all the criteria, the company takes the most pride in the caliber of the company’s midway. “We take pride in the quality of our equipment. From the rides to the trucks and the bunkhouses, we try to keep things in immaculate condition.”
In terms of safety, she noted “we have a great safety record. We maintain this record by being proactive. We hire level 3 NAARSO inspectors to inspect our equipment and re-enforce the constant in-house safety training. The more eyes on our equipment the better.”
“Talley Amusements is honored to be the next amusement provider at the Ohio State Fair,” added Tom Talley, President of Talley Amusements. “We look forward to putting our 200-plus years of combined experience to work, delivering the safest and best-possible entertainment experience, adding another successful chapter to the proud Ohio State Fair tradition. Our commitment to the people of Ohio and the State Fair is to provide a destination experience, while continuing to set establishing industry best-practices for safety and quality.”